Crowds, Carlsberg and Cort: the best Tour de France Grand Départ ever?

Denmark loves cycling, that much is very clear

Tour de France
(Image credit: Getty Images)

We should have known that the people of Denmark would go crazy for the Tour de France. This is a country where cycling is king, where one cannot move in a town or city for fear of aimlessly walking into a bike lane. For those of us not used to such infrastructure in the UK, you have to be switched on.

A clue came with the team presentation in Copenhagen last Wednesday, when there were thousands of people packed into the Tivoli Gardens to watch some riders simply ride onto stage and wave. This was another level.

It might have rained before and during the stage one time trial, dampening the reception somewhat, but the crowds came out still, and doubled their efforts for stages two and three, when the sun was very much present.

The passion of the fans was clear every time a rider passed. The levels of excitement obviously increased every time it was someone they could name, or more especially someone of Norwegian or Danish heritage was close. Even at the stage starts, at midday, a well-lubricated crowd was chanting at their heroes.

There have been people dressed as Father Christmas, those dressed as medieval folk, and even Rigoberto Urán got in the spirit, dressing up as Thor briefly.

Andreas Kron of Lotto Soudal, one of the ten Danes in this year's race, could scarcely believe the reception the peloton had received, especially him, as one of the home riders. Participating his first Tour, he must think this is normal; his expectations might need to be dampened for when the race returns to France on Tuesday.

"It's amazing, it's even more special as it has started in Denmark," he explained before the start of stage three. "I said that two weeks ago I was no name in Denmark, and now I'm becoming a small star here. It's amazing, with the crowds and everything. I just enjoy every moment I guess.

"Yesterday was even crazier than the first day. We don't even have spots more than 5km without crowds, apart from the bridge obviously, it's just amazing to hear."

It brought back memories of Yorkshire in 2014, when the Tour de France descended on north England, and every hillside was packed. In Denmark, though, they really are cycling crazy. The fans have been treated to a display of Danish swashbuckling riding through Magnus Cort, which has added to the excitement.

Tour de France

(Image credit: Getty Images)

"It's crazy," Trek-Segafredo's Quinn Simmons said. "The first three years of my career were the corona years, so I've never really experienced anything like this. We had it a bit with the super nice Worlds in Leuven that I thought was the peak, but this has beaten that, yesterday especially with the number of people for however many kilometres.

"We're used to big crowds at the finish and the start, but randomly in the middle of the day to have thousands of people, it's insane. Luckily, I'm a bit better at turning off than other guys with the stress. I was able to sit at the back of the peloton and enjoy the first 100km, because you don't often get chances like this. It's amazing."

Problems emerge with the number of people on the roadside: there is the danger of spectators causing crashes, as Tony Martin found out last year, and it is difficult for the riders to hear directions from their directeur sportifs through their radios.

"Sometimes it's a little bit nervous," Kron said. "95% of the crowd is standing amazingly well, but there will always be that small 5% that look more to the phone and the flag and stand too far into the road, and think the bike riders will move and we will not move. Hopefully today it will be even better.

"It's difficult to hear the radio, especially in the TT. Yesterday in some moments it was really difficult. It's crazy to hear my name. It starts already from presentation, and I just enjoy every moment."

It is not just the Danes, Connor Swift of Arkéa Samsic was also forced to be super wary all day: "It's a bit stressful because you have to be super concentrated all day long, you can't really switch off. The left and right of the peloton, you've always got to be focusing on the crowd, making sure that no one's sticking out. You saw the crash with Tony Martin last year, no one wants to replicate that, so you've got to be super careful."

Schrödinger's Covid: both present and not present

Rigoberto Urán

(Image credit: Getty Images)

What is strange about the sheer volume and appearance of the fans is the dichotomy it presents between them and the race bubble. While the general population of Denmark, and Europe, adjusts to 'living with Covid', the virus is still very much a threat to the riders and teams of the Tour.

After the finish of stage three, fans were thronging around the buses, desperate to catch a glimpse of their favourite cycling star; it seemed to make a mockery of the organisation and teams' desperation to stave off the virus.

"It is strange, you look around and pretty much none of the fans have masks yet we do," Arkéa Samic's Connor Swift said. "Obviously we're protecting ourselves and we want to make it to Paris, so the little measures are still good.

"It is very strange, but experiencing this race, as I did yesterday, is amazing. It is the Tour de France, and it makes you realise, bloody hell this is a big event."

All it would take is for one case to be linked to the crowds, and everything might be locked down again. It is something worth keeping an eye on.

"It's not weird, but for sure we're being really cautious in the sense that a positive Covid test can kind of derail everything," Joe Dombrowski of Astana-Qazaqstan explained. "In some cases, you feel perfectly fine, and it's not the way you want to leave the Tour de France. Taking all the care that we can. There's only so much you can do. 

"It's a little bit of a case that in society we've moved on a bit, but in cycling we have more stringent rules. How that plays out over the next three weeks remains to be seen."

The Tour successfully navigated Denmark without a Covid outbreak, now it has just 20 days still to go.

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